With references to spaghetti westerns, Kim Novak, and other film-centric nostalgia it should come as no surprise that filmmaker Oren Shai has a genuine love for cinema. His latest 14-minute short shot on 16mm, Condemned, is not the exploitation-happy or violent women in prison film one might expect, despite the cult stylings of his DVD packaging. The film is quite stylish, however, and borrows heavily from several different genres. Shai seems most at home in the 1950's where melodrama runs high, most camp was still naive yet pitch perfect, and the women in prison genre wasn't just about girls behind bars tearing their clothes off.
Condemned follows inmate #1031 who is wracked with paranoia -- convinced she is about to be executed. A mysterious, new inmate arrives (#1059), which calls into question everything for #1031. Can she be trusted? Is she working for the guards? What happens next?
Shai has a keen eye and although Condemned relies heavily on its dialogue, there are some fantastic visuals that help us enter the prisoners' world. Light, shadows, and framing are all spot on and compliment some decent acting chops. Actress Margaret Anne Florence (#1031) delivers a subtly sexy performance that is a cross between a Tennessee Williams play and 50's melodrama -- similar to the book she opens when we first meet her (Return to Payton Place).
Shai's interests are varied and presented through a series of cinematic references which may leave some viewers feeling overwhelmed. I can almost feel Shai bursting at the seams -- eager to explore these different elements and influences in a feature length film, and according to his recent bio that project is currently in development. He's already screened his previous film, Heavy Soul, at Austin's SXSW festival and won several awards. I look forward to seeing what this talented filmmaker has in store for us next.
Check out the teaser trailer for Condemned after the jump.